How to Repot Houseplants

Learn how to repot your favorite houseplants with these step-by-step instructions.

  • “Growing Healthy Houseplants” by Ellen Zachos is the perfect guide for first-time plant owners.
    Cover courtesy Storey Publishing
  • When repotting, only upgrade by one pot size at a time to ensure that your plants continue to thrive.
    Photo by Fotolia
  • If roots are tightly woven around the plant, gently loosen them with your fingers before repotting.
    Illustration by Beverly Duncan

Growing Healthy Houseplants (Storey Basics, 2014) by Ellen Zachos is an essential guide for houseplant owners. Zachos discusses the basics of keeping plants, from choosing the right plants for your space and how to properly care for them. The following excerpt, from “Part Two: Daily Care,” offers easy-to-follow instructions for how to repot your favorite houseplants.

1. Find the Right Pot

First, choose a container one size bigger than your current pot. Pots come in standard sizes, usually in 2-inch increments. A 6-inch pot is a pot with an interior top diameter of 6 inches. The next size up would be an 8-inch pot, and that would give a 6-inch rootball a full inch of fresh soil all the way around.

Resist temptation to move your plant into a much bigger pot. You may think you’re saving yourself time because you won’t have to repot the plant so often if you move it into a big pot now, but over-potting can kill a plant. If you moved a 6-inch rootball into a 12-inch pot, that would give the rootball 3 inches of fresh soil all the way around.

Why would that be a bad thing? After you water a plant, the soil gradually dries out as the roots absorb water from the soil. This balance between wet and dry, oxygen and water, is crucial. Fresh soil with no roots in it will stay wet, surrounding the rootball with moisture, keeping the roots wet for longer than they should be. The roots may rot, killing the plant, slowly, in front of your very eyes.

2. Remove the Plant

Find a pot one size larger than your current container, and have a bag of potting mix and a pottery shard (a broken piece of an old pot) or small piece of landscape cloth or screen. Cover the hole in the bottom of the pot with one of the above to keep soil from dribbling out the bottom of the pot, then add an inch or two of soil. Next, knock the plant out of its pot.

To do this, tip the pot upside down, holding the stem of the plant loosely between your fingers. If the rootball doesn’t slip right out, knock the pot (hard) against the side of a table, or, if the pot is plastic, roll it on its side while pressing down hard. This should loosen the rootball so you can slide it out gently. It is not unheard of for a plant’s roots to attach themselves to the pot’s walls. You may need to crack a terra-cotta pot (try a hammer) and peel away the pieces. Or, for a plastic pot, cut it apart with a pair of scissors.

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